One of the grand sites of France and a UNESCO World Heritage site, this ancient pilgrimage destination is a place where miracles are said to happen.

One of the best vantage points to see this small medieval city in the Lot, southwest France is by hot air balloon. The bird’s eye view gives a breath-taking perspective. The buildings cling effortlessly to the gorge of the Alzon River – a tributary of the Dordogne, and show clearly three strata of society: the merchants below, the clergy in the middle and the warriors at the top. Here we briefly introduce the history behind one of the most visited sites in France.



Legend. History. Pilgrimage.

The legend began centuries ago when a hermit lived and died in one cave that was carved into the limestone cliffs. After he died, the cave had a reputation for having a magical atmosphere; subsequently in the 11th century, a chapel was built on the site. In 1166 a tomb was found containing a body. At first, this unknown man was named Saint Amadour after the site. Later, it was proclaimed that he was Saint Zacchaeus. Thus began the popularity of Rocamadour as a place of miracles which soon became a pilgrimage site.

Subsequently more religious buildings were built on the site, creating what is now known as the Sanctuary. A village grew below the Sanctuary, with shops catering to the increasing number of pilgrims. As the village was fairly isolated, the wealth of the area attracted bandits – as a result it was pillaged several times. To combat this, in the 13th century, a military fortress was built above the Sanctuary to protect it and the village. In the 16th century Protestants destroyed much at Rocamadour and the body of Saint Amadour was taken. In the 19th century Rocamadour went underwent a major restoration, changing some of the original features.

Originally Rocamadour was not a major site to visit, but that changed when it became one of the most popular places dedicated to the cult of Mary. Because of this, it became a major European Catholic pilgrimage destination. All classes would go on pilgrimage, with some journeys taking years.

Many of the frescos were destroyed in the 16th century. This one of the few that has been preserved

Vierges Noires

One of the major attractions for visitors is the statue of the black Virgin Mary, in the Chapelle Notre Dame. The statue is not only famous for creating miracles, but also linked to the sea and saving sailors. When in trouble during stormy seas, sailors would pray to Mary of Rocamadour. It is said when she saved them a bell rang in the chapel. As a gesture of thanks several miniature carved wooden boats hang from the ceiling in the chapel.


Carved boats hang from the ceiling in the Chapelle Notre Dame, Rocamadour
Carved boats hang from the ceiling in the Chapelle Notre Dame

Both pilgrims and tourists visit this holy place, making it one of the top three destinations to visit in France; Rocamadour welcomes well over a million visitors each year. Whether or not viewing this sacred site by air balloon, Rocamadour is bound to leave visitors feeling uplifted.

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